As the NFL Draft approaches, the Eagles seem to have nearly as many questions to answer regarding their 2010 roster as they did when the final whistle blew on their 2009 season in Dallas all those long winter months ago. We’d like to take a look at some of the players they might target in the early rounds of this year’s draft.
Among the generally chaotic, pessimistic, and usually unreadable offseason conjecture that surrounds the Philadelphia Eagles, the center position is considered to be highly underestimated as an area of need for this football team. At the risk of repeating ourselves, it could easily be the area of neglect that has nagged this team in one way or another for the past three years. Positions like punt returner in 2007, fullback in 2008, and free safety in 2009 remained unresolved and ended up costing the Eagles more games than they could expect. Without serious consideration, it could turn into the merry-go-round midseason struggle to fill what is ostensibly an easily filled slot. This year an unaddressed search for center could cost the Eagles the one or two games that would give them an easy route through the first few playoff matchups.
Maurkice Pouncey is the top ranked center, but he also provides the kind of versatility that Andy Reid loves. In the event that Jamaal Jackson returns healthy from his late-season knee injury in 2011, Pouncey has the ability to slide out to guard. In fact, he would likely be a first round guard prospect if he didn’t play the center position. It might seem like an embarrassment of riches to add another offensive linemen with Shawn and Stacy Andrews returning in 2010, but I continue to believe that their reliability is tenuous at best. With Nick Cole walking away from this team in 2011, Pouncey could be in a position to make some appreciated contributions in his rookie year and onward.
It has been pretty remarkable to see the kind of backlash that Mays has encountered in just the past year. I’m not saying all of it is undeserved, but after posting exceptional workout numbers at this year’s NFL Combine, the hatred seemed to pour on more than you would expect for a player at a well-recognized position of need . Philadelphia can be like that sometimes. Okay, most of the time.
In a way, it’s unique to see fans taking on this air of responsibility. Workout numbers do not always equate success on the football field, and after drafting super-intense Mike Mamula in 1995, Eagles fans seem to have a genuine wariness for those players who have accomplished more in the gym than they have on the field. But they also shouldn’t forget that Mays was probably the top safety prospect in 2008 and his physical ability gives him the ability to compensate for some of the mistakes his poor instincts might get him into.
The safety position hardly feels resolved with the arrival of Marlin Jackson. Just a few months removed from a knee injury, the Eagles offered Jackson an incentive-laden contract to try and control their future options in the event that he never really got himself healthy enough for playing time. (A lesson they likely learned from their presumptuous signing of Stacy Andrews early in last year’s free agency.) Mays has some real rawness at the position, and he doesn’t always flash the knowledge, instincts, and use of angles that the Eagles look for in their safeties. They’re likely to see Mays in their range around round one, but if Earl Thomas doesn’t fall to them or they don’t feel that Nate Allen is worth the reach, they could forgo the safety position entirely until the second or third round.
After losing Middle Linebacker Stewart Bradley to injury for all of 2009, Eagles fans seem to have a genuine concern for the ability of these linebackers as we look forward to 2010. The Eagles organization has taken a decidedly more optimistic approach to their linebackers by cutting Will Witherspoon and ignoring the limited names in this year’s free agency. Basically, Karlos Dansby walked confidently into the offices of the Miami Dolphins, and free agency was over at the linebacker position.
Would the Eagles have pursued a free agent linebacker in the first place? Probably not, and sadly they will likely not adjust their pursuit in the draft. Under this coaching regime, the Eagles have only taken one linebacker before round three of the NFL draft. His name was Matt McCoy, and if you’ve seen him, please call his mother and let her know he’s okay. The fact is, the Eagles just don’t value linebackers very highly despite the fact that they ask quite a bit from their linebackers on the field. Bradley and strongside linebacker Chris Gocong were both taken in the third round, and their weakside starter Akeem Jordan was an undrafted free agent.
But Weatherspoon is their kind of player. He is not very big for the position, but he has good speed to the edge, exceptional ball skills, and the ability to get to the quarterback, and that kind of versatility can go a long way for a team that is still trying to find its identity after the instalment of second year Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott.